Economic evaluation of a Decision Support Tool to guide intensity of mental health care in general practice: the Link-me pragmatic randomised controlled trial

Mary Lou Chatterton, Meredith Harris, Philip Burgess, Susan Fletcher, Matthew J. Spittal, Jan Faller, Victoria J. Palmer, Patty Chondros, Bridget Bassilios, Jane Pirkis, Jane Gunn, Cathrine Mihalopoulos

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Background: This paper reports on the cost-effectiveness evaluation of Link-me – a digitally supported, systematic approach to triaging care for depression and anxiety in primary care that uses a patient-completed Decision Support Tool (DST). Methods: The economic evaluation was conducted alongside a parallel, stratified individually randomised controlled trial (RCT) comparing prognosis-matched care to usual care at six- and 12-month follow-up. Twenty-three general practices in three Australian Primary Health Networks recruited 1,671 adults (aged 18 – 75 years), predicted by the DST to have minimal/mild or severe depressive or anxiety symptoms in three months. The minimal/mild prognostic group was referred to low intensity services. Participants screened in the severe prognostic group were offered high intensity care navigation, a model of care coordination. The outcome measures included in this evaluation were health sector costs (including development and delivery of the DST, care navigation and other healthcare services used) and societal costs (health sector costs plus lost productivity), psychological distress [Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10)] and quality adjusted life years (QALYs) derived from the EuroQol 5-dimension quality of life questionnaire with Australian general population preference weights applied. Costs were valued in 2018–19 Australian dollars (A$). Results: Across all participants, the health sector incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of Link-me per point decrease in K10 at six months was estimated at $1,082 (95% CI $391 to $6,204) increasing to $2,371 (95% CI $191 to Dominated) at 12 months. From a societal perspective, the ICER was estimated at $1,257/K10 point decrease (95% CI Dominant to Dominated) at six months, decreasing to $1,217 (95% CI Dominant to Dominated) at 12 months. No significant differences in QALYs were detected between trial arms and the intervention was dominated (less effective, more costly) based on the cost/QALY ICER. Conclusions: The Link-me approach to stepped mental health care would not be considered cost-effective utilising a cost/QALY outcome metric commonly adopted by health technology assessment agencies. Rather, Link-me showed a trend toward cost-effectiveness by providing improvement in mental health symptoms, measured by the K10, at an additional cost. Trial registration: Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ANZCTRN 12617001333303.

Original languageEnglish
Article number236
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Primary Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Care navigation
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Economic evaluation
  • Mental health
  • Primary Care
  • Randomised controlled trial

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